Monday, March 8, 2010

Iraqis Go to The Polls

Once again, it appears, the indefatigable people of Iraq have braved the threats of extremists and cowards (and by that I don't just mean the Western media), and ventured out, dressed in their finest, and in large numbers, to cast their votes in this latest, crucial round of elections. Bill Ardolino of the Threat Matrix blog over at the Long War journal, quotes the NYT:
Insurgents here vowed to disrupt the election, and the concerted wave of attacks — as many as 100 thunderous blasts in the capital alone starting just before the polls opened — did frighten voters away, but only initially. The shrugging response of voters could signal a fundamental weakening of the insurgency’s potency.

At least 38 people were killed in Baghdad. But at the end of the day, turnout was reported to be higher than expected, and certainly higher than in the last parliamentary election in 2005, marred by a similar level of violence.
And lo, there must have been no small wailing and gnashing of teeth in the editorial catacombs of the Gray lady over this development. Indeed, in numbers too great to link, the predictions have come fast and furious that the Iraqi people, weary of "deteriorating" security (still orders of magnitude more secure than during the much-vaunted Civil War that never quite was...), and growing sectarian strife (amid mounting evidence that Iraqis retain their hard-won nationalism, and persist in identifying themselves as Iraqi to a greater degree than ever before), would stay away from the polls in droves. This was supposed to be a lukewarm turnout, dripping with cynicism and despair, while various sectarian and ethnic groups kept their powder dry against the day when it all came crashing down and those primordial affiliations would rise again.

Once again, the Iraqis appear to have raised a thicket of purple fingers in the faces of the would-be authors of their national obituary. As one Iraqi observer noted, "We have experienced three wars before, so it was just the play of children that we heard.”

But that's not all. Again, quoting the Times:
Despite a long delay, disputes over candidates’ qualifications, arrests, assassinations and finally an all-out assault by insurgents on Sunday morning, the election took place with only a few reports of irregularities. And by Sunday night, something rare was emerging in a region dominated by authoritarian governments: an election cliffhanger.
Official results are not expected for days, but after the polls closed at 5 p.m., party leaders said two coalitions seem to have fared best: the one led by Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al Maliki, who has campaigned for a second time on improved security in Iraq, and another led by the former interim leader, Ayad Allawi, who has promised to overcome Iraq’s sectarian divides.
 Despite a previous boycott, and the ill-considered (and fortunately reversed) decision to bar hundreds of Sunni candidates due to purported Baathist affiliations, Sunni voters turned out in large numbers. This further cemented the legitimacy of an election which, when the dust settles, could result in a government in which rival parties are forced to form coalitions and partnerships. A government in which Maliki and Allawi are compelled to find common cause and reconcile their constituencies would be a rare and precious thing in a region in which politics has tended to be a blood-soaked, Manichean affair at best. Where bargaining takes the place of ballistics, and bloodshed becomes more metaphorical than literal, one may legitimately speak of real hope.

Throw in the still-unrealized potential of very significant oil and natural gas deposits, discovered under Sunni lands a couple of years ago (and the associated mitigation of one of the chief obstacles to the ratification of an oil revenue sharing law, given the previous near-monopoly on hydrocarbon deposits by Shiites and Kurds), and you've got some serious seeds, on very fertile soil, for something approaching  political normalization and widespread prosperity. Foreign investment in oil development has been quite robust (though, in contrast with some tediously-cherished narratives, not a lot of it has been American. Which is just stupid).

Corruption is still a problem. It's a Big Problem. And everybody knows it...which, given a demonstrably energized and engaged electorate with very little patience, may work to the Iraqi Republic's advantage. The Iraqis are starting to get a lot less shy about voting to "throw the bums out." You know, now that they are starting to Get It that their vote won't earn them a kicked in door and a midnight ride in the back of a van. It's not unreasonable to suppose that a lot of these guys (and gals!) currently on the take might soon have cause, as they reach for their bags of booty,  to look over their a lot of very pissed-off eyes.

Voting for me is a matter of putting on a suit (one of the few times I ever have to plaster myself in one of those silly things), and driving two minutes to the local firehouse to wait in a short line (nothing a quick pass through The Federalist Papers [thank you, Sony Reader!!] doesn't make go by in a blink). I am floored and awed by the sheer moxie of the Iraqi voters, who risk life and limb and even family (!) to dip their digits in the ink of Liberty.

We could learn a thing or two!

UPDATE:  Some typically on-target words from Victor Davis Hanson on this and related subjects.

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